We have problems in this country, and I don’t know how to solve them. But after last Sunday, I have a few thoughts.
A Bad Person
I prefer to believe that most people are doing the best they can, but a guy like Stephen Paddock turns this belief on its head Forensic cops and scientists will try to discern his motives. I don’t care about his motives. There are only two relevant points for me.
First, after more than 60 years as a functional, law-abiding person, he set out to kill as many people as he possibly could.
Second, after this deliberate act, he shrank from taking responsibility. An honorable person tries not to harm others. A less honorable person does not harm others because he fears the consequences for himself. A dishonorable person harms others and then kills himself to avoid unpleasantness afterward. Stephen Paddock was a moral coward.
Maybe he had unresolved grievances. Maybe something interfered with his mental functioning. None of this excuses his actions. He had enough life experience, and apparently enough money, to face his problems. That he chose to make them our problem is a great failure on his part. He chose to become a monster.
I was robbed at gunpoint once, a story for another day, and I would prefer to live in a country where citizens are not armed. My problem is that I don’t see how that can be accomplished.
For starters, the Second Amendment is explicit, and there is not enough support to eliminate or replace it.
I am not a lawyer, but I can see the issue. People reviled Antonin Scalia for the Heller decision, but it is difficult to argue with plain language that says “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Those who argue the other side of the verbiage — that gun ownership should be limited to participation in “well-regulated militia” — similarly do not comfort me. The Constitution was written by people who wanted citizens to be able to overthrow tyrants. The biggest groups opposing “tyranny” now seem to be that bunch who marched in Charleston last month and the Black Bloc. Not my kind of folks.
Getting Rid of Guns
Even if we could agree on this goal, there are practical barriers to accomplishing it.
First is the sheer number of firearms in the country today. We have spoken for years about
300 million guns, but during those years the number has risen substantially. According to the latest ATF reports, American manufacturers produced almost 11 million guns in 2013 and more than 9 million in 2014; only a few hundred thousand of those were sold as exports. Also, we import millions of guns every year (3.6 million in 2014, 3.9 million in 2015, again per the ATF.)
If we banned gun ownership tomorrow, my brother would hand over our grandfather’s 22 rifle, but many other people would not cooperate. Perhaps we could identify all those with registered firearms and use pressure to make them relinquish their weapons, but more than a few would resist.
Then we would have the problem of finding and collecting all the illegal guns, which seem to be as available as heroin on our streets. Cory Booker, after several years as mayor of Newark, remarked that only one of the hundreds of shootings in the city during his term had involved a legally registered firearm.
The owners of those illegal guns would be unlikely to give them up.
If they do not, are we willing to send government agents into homes and businesses with metal detectors to search for weapons hidden behind walls or under floorboards? To dig up lawns and parks? To search storage lockers and the trunks and undersides of cars and the branches of every tree in the country?
Maybe we can enact laws to ban bump stocks, a term whose meaning we all learned this week, but can we prevent people from manufacturing their own bump stocks or guns with 3-D printers?
In fact, there are many ways to kill people, and people who are motivated toward bad ends will use them.
In 1995, Timothy McVeigh made a bomb out of a truck full of fertilizer, parked it in front of a federal courthouse and detonated it, killing 168 people.
After that, heavy concrete stanchions were put up in front of large buildings here and in Europe to prevent access to people with truck bombs.
Then, last year, a terrorist rented a large truck and drove it down the crowded Boulevard de la Croisette in Nice on Bastille Day, killing 84. This year, similar actions have been undertaken on two bridges in London.
Little as we like the Las Vegas shooter, we must concede that he was smart, focused and disciplined. If guns had been unavailable to him, he could have found another way to make his point, whatever the hell it was. He could have rigged a drone to drop a bomb on the crowd at the concert. He could have poisoned the reservoir behind Hoover Dam. He could have piloted one of his two airplanes into the stands at a high school football game.
Security, Our New Growth Industry
After Las Vegas, we can expect that there will be no more outdoor concerts along the Las Vegas Strip. After Las Vegas, Nashville is reconsidering music festivals in its touristy SoBro neighborhood of three-story buildings.
After Las Vegas, will people want to line the building-dense route of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?
After Las Vegas, will the NYPD be interested in providing the necessary security to guarantee the safety of a million people in Times Square on New Year’s Eve?
Last year’s Oscars ceremony was protected by police snipers, helicopters, drones, metal detectors and gosh knows what else, and still a couple random guys managed to walk into the holding pen for the celebrities.
When you think about it, national politicians and celebrities get a lot of protection. The rest of us, not so much.
But it is the rest of us who bear much of the burden.
Last year my carry-on bag was selected at random in the TSA line at the airport, and I watched a burly guy paw through my clothes. Last month I was selected randomly for a patdown by a female TSA officer.
I have come to resent these intrusions. My last brush with the law was a parking ticket 15 years ago. The next time a police agency brings someone to justice for a violent crime against me or my family will the very first time. I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen.
Unfortunately, after Las Vegas, this is just the beginning.
I still want to believe that most people are doing the best they can. So far I personally have not been disappointed.
But if somebody knew what Stephen Paddock was planning and did nothing to stop him, that person has failed as a citizen and, more, as a human being.
We have no idea how many relatives and friends have acted to frustrate people with bad plans — confiscating guns and knives, warning targeted victims, calling police or hauling disturbed people to mental hospitals. There must be many of these quiet heroes who deserve our gratitude even if we never learn their names.
Yes, if we see something we should say something. I’d like it better if we framed that idea as a moral imperative.